UPPER WEST SIDE — The four presumptive Democratic mayoral candidates pledged to undo major parts of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education agenda at a forum that marked the symbolic kick-off of the 2013 race.
In their first joint appearance since the presidential election and since Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer bowed out of the race, the field of hopefuls criticized Bloomberg’s emphasis on testing and his contentious relationship with the teachers union.
“I think we’re stalled and we need a very, very serious reset,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who was among the most aggressive in his attacks on Monday.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is seen as a close ally of the mayor, walked a more cautious line, but said that Bloomberg's hostile relationship with the teachers union had become counter-productive.
“We have to find a way to dial down the tone of the rhetoric and high volume as it relates to discussions with the teachers union,” she told the crowd gathered in an auditorium at the Fordham Law School for the "2013 Mayoral Candidate Forum."
"That isn’t serving anyone well," she said.
She also argued the Department of Education should become a full-fledged city agency to give the City Council new powers to scrutinize DOE spending. Under today's arrangement, much of what happens in schools is dictated by legislators in Albany.
“Trust me, that would be illuminating like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree,” she said.
De Blasio, meanwhile, stressed the need for more parental involvement and said that, under Bloomberg’s tenure, parents have been shut out.
He said that parent-led Community Education Councils need to have a more meaningful role and that the Panel for Educational policy — which must approve decisions like school closures — needs new teeth.
“Let’s make the PEP a place of real debate. Not a kangaroo court, not a rubber stamp,” he said.
City Comptroller John Liu vowed to put a moratorium on school closures and also promised to end the policy of co-locating charter and traditional public schools in the same buildings, which he said has been disruptive at many schools.
“It’s a shell game. It’s a three card Monte with our public school kids,” he said.
Former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who formerly served as president of the Board of Education, also said that Bloomberg had failed to realize “the promise of mayoral control," and vowed to hire an educator as the city's next schools chancellor if he wins.
“As mayor, I’d like to see mayoral control. But it is a question of who the mayor is,” he said.
All of the candidates also agreed that smaller class sizes should be a priority, and said that they would zero in on lower grades, where they argued the most impact can be made.
Bloomberg's education policies have grown increasingly unpopular in the polls.
The conversation was sponsored by the newspaper City & State.